Alan Chalmers, One Hundred Years of Pressure – Hydrostatics from Stevin to Newton Springer, 2017.
Alan Chalmers’ book really makes us wonder what we know about the physics of liquids and about how science got to this knowledge. The book provides a great historical reconstruction of the major episodes in the development of modern hydrostatics. It shows how the apparent familiarity of a physical concept mislead and continues to be misleading. The concept of pressure is usually presented as a ‘given’, but it’s far from being self-evident, and its hundred years of intellectual development attest this.
Think about the ordinary things in everyday life. Some of them seem to be as trivial and boring as things can get. They aren’t surprising in any way, and only rarely arouse any thoughts or reflections. We simply take them for granted. The behavior of liquids belongs here: everyone knows that liquids flow. It’s self-evident that water takes the shape of its container, that some objects float, or that the smallest crack in a filled vessel might cause a leak. Even my cat has a habit that suggests he’s perfectly aware he can spill all the water from his bowl. Continue reading The science of water
• David Wootton, The Invention of Science: A New History of the Scientific Revolution (New York: Harper Perennial, 2015
Writing, today, on the Scientific Revolution, is one of the most difficult tasks facing the historian of science. Not only because one has to begin by digging through hundreds of thousands of pages of scholarly criticism, but because the existence and the contours of the phenomenon itself are questionable. Not so long ago, a popular book on the same subject famously begun by claiming: “There is no such thing as the Scientific Revolution, and this is a book about it.”[i]
Was science born, discovered or invented in a determinate period in history? Was the advent of science resulting from circumstances which led to points of inflexion, singularities, or a clean break with the past? Are there revolutionary events in the evolution of knowledge, at all? Then, there are the disciplinary questions and allegiances. Is writing about the Scientific Revolution a subject for the historian at all? Or is it, rather, a philosophical enterprise? Does it require a sort of historical and philosophical commitment? (and, if it does, of what kind?). Continue reading Silent revolutions and vocal facts: a new history of the Scientific Revolution, or how modern science came to stay